Russia backs out of high-tech NATO exercise

STUTTGART, Germany—To protest NATO's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, Russia this week pulled out of a major U.S.-led NATO computer and communications exercise that promises to help allies share information on the battlefield.

Navy Capt. Arthur T. Cooper, deputy J-6 for the U.S. European Command, told Federal Computer Week that details of the negotiations are highly classified but said that the Russians' decision not to participate in the exercise, Combined Endeavor '99, came "at the last minute."

The exercise, which began May 6 in Baumholder, a town near Ramstein Air Force Base, is part of NATO's Partnership for Peace (PFP) program to standardize communications technologies used by allied militaries around the world. For example, in Washington, D.C., this month, NATO held the PFP Simulation Network Demonstration, which linked six multinational command posts through a global simulation network. The simulation exercise, like a field exercise, tested the ability of participants to respond to scenarios that might occur in a battle.

Thirty nations are taking part in Combined Endeavor, including Switzerland and Austria for the first time and the U.S. Marines. Russia's decision not to participate because of NATO's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia is a "big blow" to the exercise, Cooper said.

The absence of the Russians is particularly important because, unlike in previous years, Combined Endeavor '99 includes enough communications equipment and personnel to support up to six multinational divisions and would have included a suite of Russian equipment that has never been used outside Russia, Cooper said. "It would have been great to tie that in," Cooper said.

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